Occupational Safety and Health
Occupational Safety and Health
News Article | April 27, 2017
Yesterday was a notable one in the efforts to improve working conditions for U.S. poultry processing workers. At a Perdue chicken processing plant in Salisbury, Maryland, faith leaders and worker advocates delivered some special packages to company officials. Thirteen hundred miles way in Springdale, Arkansas, the U.S. largest poultry company announced new initiatives to improve conditions for its poultry processing workforce. I tip my hat to the diverse coalition of worker advocates who set the stage for these event. More on their contribution below, but first the story from Salisbury, Maryland. The demonstration was organized by Oxfam America and the Comité de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agrícolas. The demonstrators held signs that read: “We stand with poultry workers to improve working conditions,” and “Jobs on the line shouldn’t put lives on the line,” and “I love chicken. I love justice.” Their demand to Perdue is to implement changes in their poultry plants to ensure their employees earn fair wages and are protected from injuries. A Perdue official met demonstrators outside the plant gates. Alex Galimberti with Oxfam America spoke to the official: The Perdue representative accepted the tall stack of familiar yellow Styrofoam packages. Instead of raw chicken, they held the names of more than 100,000 consumers. Perdue employs 20,000 workers at locations in 10 states. Very few of its workers are represented by a labor union. At just about the same time but in Springdale, Arkansas, Tyson Foods made an announcement. The U.S. largest poultry processing company said that worker health and safety is going to be integral to their goal of sustainable food production. The company’s COO released a statement saying: I’ve been skeptical of firms that tout their sustainability efforts because typically they focus on protection of natural resources but exclude the work environment. Former OSHA chief David Michaels, just before leaving office, urged employers to integrate occupational health and safety within their business sustainability program and metrics. In December 2016, Michaels joined with another former OSHA director, John Henshaw, to write: Is this what Tyson Foods has in mind? The statement they released yesterday includes a number of promises to its poultry plant workers, such as reducing worker injuries and turnover, hiring more trainers, and publicly sharing the results of third-party social responsibility compliance audits. Tyson describes these changes as part of its focus on sustainability. But Tyson saying something is quite different from Tyson doing it and doing it well. Poultry companies have a long, troubling record of employees suffering from disabling musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome and other injuries. I’ve written previously about Tyson’s alarming number of amputations. (I’ve probably written three dozen blog posts about other safety problems in U.S. poultry plants.) Tyson Foods says it wants to reduce injuries by 15 percent per year. What it must not do to achieve that goal is engage in recordkeeping gimmicks and medical management practices that distort the truth about worker injuries. Too many companies, especially poultry companies, game the injury recordkeeping system to deceive the public about working conditions. Tyson has also racked up hundreds of thousands of unpaid OSHA penalties for safety violations. When a company routinely challenges OSHA findings, I can’t help but be wonder whether their safety talk is just lip service. One thing Tyson could do immediately is to cooperate with OSHA on a corporate wide settlement agreement in which they commit to fix the hazards identified by OSHA—-and fix them in each and every one of their plants. But I’m an outsider. I’m not privy to Tyson’s sincerity about these commitments. A number of groups however have been talking with leadership at Tyson Foods. They are pleased with the company’s announcement. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) applauded Tyson for their pledge to create and expand initiatives on safety, compensation, and transparency. The union’s president Marc Perrone said: Magaly Licolli, the director of the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC) is optimistic, too. NWAWJC is a worker-led organization whose membership includes employees at Tyson poultry plants. She remarked: The UFCW and NWAWJC are part of a coalition of advocates who have been collaborating since 2012 to improve working conditions for poultry and meatpacking workers. Other groups in the coalition include the Southern Poverty Law Center, Nebraska Appleseed, Oxfam America, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, and Interfaith Worker Justice. These organizations and others began coordinating efforts five years ago to vigorously oppose the USDA’s plan to allow poultry plants to increase line speeds from 140 to 175 birds per minute. Since then—individually and collectively—the groups have issued reports, prepared petitions, briefed lawmakers, and held press calls and protests. Like the UFCW, Oxfam America staff have also met with Tyson Food officials. Their conversations took place following the release of Oxfam’s report “Lives on the Line: the Human Cost of Cheap Chicken” and accompanying social media campaign. Last year, Oxfam published an attention-getting report called “No Relief” about poultry workers being denied bathroom breaks. A hard-hitting two-minute Oxfam video calls on consumers to demand humane working conditions from the country’s four major poultry companies: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. Oxfam’s video is one I show to my students. In fact, I used it in class on Tuesday night. I’ve no doubt that the negative publicity caused Tyson to pay attention. My colleague Peter Dooley with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health and I were talking yesterday about both the Tyson announcement and the demonstration at the Perdue plant. Peter’s been around the block a few times fighting corporate giants who treat workers as disposable cogs in production. I asked for his view on whether the poultry worker coalition has made a difference. And ever the optimist of the power of good over greed, he added: Peter and I agree that neither the event at Perdue yesterday nor the announcement by Tyson Foods would have occurred without the coalition’s efforts. Attention alone doesn’t solve the problem of unfair and dangerous working conditions, but it’s a vital step. A key player in that coalition’s work has been Oliver Gottfried, senior campaign strategist at Oxfam. About Tyson’s announcement he said: And co-president of A Better Balance Dina Bakst said: I’d say these reactions to Tyson’s announcement as encouraged but with a good dose of healthy skepticism. For more than five years, a small, diverse coalition of labor and human rights groups have raised awareness about unsafe and unjust treatment of poultry workers. I’ve been part of the coalition and proud of each group’s contributions. Change is possible and as Peter Dooley says: “the sky’s the limit.”
News Article | April 28, 2017
Who would do such things? Regrettably, far too many employers and 12 of them are profiled in the report “The Dirty Dozen 2017: Employers who put workers & communities at risk.” It was released this week by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) as part of global commemorations of Worker Memorial Day. National COSH asked its expansive network of health and safety activists to nominate employers for the shameful designation. They received loads of suggestions. The group whittled down the long list to 12, using criteria such as the severity of worker injuries and the companies’ histories of repeat violations. The brief profiles of each company is more than enough to illustrate their indifference to safety and workers’ rights. The behavior of the companies is inexcusable. The worker deaths and injuries caused by these employers are senseless. Take the case of Dedicated Trailer Cleaning Services (DTCS) which is just one of the “Dirty Dozen.” DTCS’s disregard for employees’ lives resulted in the death in October 2015 of Armond Stack, 49. He was killed inside an oxygen-depleted railway tanker that he was assigned to clean with two co-workers. DTCS failed to monitor the air inside the tank to determine whether it was safe. Doing so is fundamental for working inside a confined space because toxic gases can build up. But the circumstances preceding Mr. Stack’s death make the fatality even more horrific. DTCS had been busted two times earlier by OSHA for exposing workers to the same hazard. (There’s no doubt that DTCS broke the law many other times without being caught. The company was cited by OSHA in 2012 for two willful and nine serious violations of confined space safety regulations. The company never paid the penalty. The government referred the debt to a collection agency. An OSHA inspection in 2014 resulted in eight repeat violations of those same confined space rules. The company paid a $55,625 penalty. Not too long afterwards came the day that Armond Stack, 49, was killed on the job. As noted in the “Dirty Dozen” report, The company is challenging the three repeat, two willful, and four serious violations identified by OSHA, as well as the proposed $226,000 penalty. I scratch my head trying to figure out how DTCS can stay in business? Why would any company hire DTCS for a tank cleaning project? I ask the same questions about National COSH’s other “Dirty Dozen” companies: Among all the fine content in National COSH’s Dirty Dozen report, two short lines are sticking with me: Today is Worker Memorial Day, but those lines are appropriate for us to repeat every day of the year.
News Article | April 28, 2017
A total of 388 Californians lost their lives on the job in 2015, nearly half of them Latino. The causes of death range from preventable accidents to instances of workplace violence, including the shooting incident that claimed 14 victims in San Bernardino on December 2, 2015. These tragedies affect communities both large and small throughout the state. "Prevention is key for workplace safety," said Juliann Sum, Chief of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). "Cal/OSHA improves working conditions for all workers through effective enforcement and education and outreach, including forming partnerships with employers that have outstanding injury and illness prevention programs. We've also increased workplace safety outreach and education to Spanish-speaking workers, with a focus on high-hazard work." Cal/OSHA was the first in the nation to adopt a statewide Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) standard in 1991 and also the first to adopt an emergency heat illness prevention regulation in 2005. The emergency regulation became law in 2006 and was amended in 2010 to add high-heat procedures to protect outdoor workers in industries including agriculture, construction, landscaping and oil and gas extraction. The heat illness prevention regulation was further amended in 2015 to increase worker access to water, lower the temperature trigger for shade and expand training for outdoor workers to recognize and address the signs and symptoms of heat illness. Additionally, workers across the state are protected by permissible exposure limits that go beyond the federal minimums and cover a wider variety of chemicals. California is proud to maintain the most comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan in the country and to be the only state to enact occupational aerosol transmissible disease regulations. Together these efforts help California maintain workplace injury and fatality rates below the national average. Cal/OSHA's Consultation Services Branch provides free and voluntary assistance to employers to improve their safety and health programs. Employers should call (800) 963-9424 for assistance from Cal/OSHA Consultation Services. Employees with work-related questions or complaints may contact DIR's Call Center in English or Spanish at 844-LABOR-DIR (844-522-6734). The California Workers' Information line at 866-924-9757 provides recorded information in English and Spanish on a variety of work-related topics. Complaints can also be filed confidentially with Cal/OSHA district offices. Members of the press may contact Erika Monterroza or Peter Melton at (510) 286-1161, and are encouraged to subscribe to get email alerts on DIR's press releases or other departmental updates. The California Department of Industrial Relations, established in 1927, protects and improves the health, safety, and economic well-being of over 18 million wage earners, and helps their employers comply with state labor laws. DIR is housed within the Labor & Workforce Development Agency. For general inquiries, contact DIR's Communications Call Center at 844-LABOR-DIR (844-522-6734) for help in locating the appropriate division or program in our department. To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/dir-honors-workers-memorial-day-300448177.html
News Article | May 2, 2017
The Lucian Leape Institute, a renowned patient safety think tank, has announced the appointment of two new members, effective May 1. Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP, former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and President Emeritus and Senior Fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), was a founding member of the Lucian Leape Institute when it was established by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) in 2007. David Michaels, PhD, MPH, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health and currently Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, served on a 2012 Lucian Leape Institute roundtable addressing the health and safety of the health care workforce. The Lucian Leape Institute is named for Dr. Leape, the patient safety field’s most well-known advocate, who served as founding chair and remains a member. Since the NPSF merged with IHI on May 1 of this year, the Institute continues its work within IHI’s safety program area. “It is a great honor to welcome two such distinguished and accomplished experts,” said Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH, CPPS, Chief Clinical and Safety Officer, IHI, and President of the Lucian Leape Institute. “Their expertise, leadership, and insight will be invaluable as we expand our focus on culture and leadership to advance the safety of patients and the workforce.” Dr. Berwick was instrumental in the early work of the think tank, specifically in helping to outline essential areas where improvement is needed to transform the safety of the health care system. He was also a key contributor to the Institute’s first white paper, which outlined the rationale and recommendations for reforming medical education to more broadly encompass patient safety science. Among Dr. Berwick’s many contributions to the health care field is his appointment by President Obama to serve as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from July 2010 through December 2011. He has also served as Vice Chair of the US Preventive Services Task Force and Chair of the National Advisory Council of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. His work on the National Demonstration Project on Quality Improvement in Health Care in the 1980s led him to help establish IHI in 1991. Since then, IHI has grown to become a leader in health and health care improvement worldwide . Dr. Michaels was the longest-serving administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) when he left his government position earlier this year. Appointed by President Obama in 2009, Dr. Michaels expanded OSHA’s research and resources related to health care workforce safety. He has been an ardent advocate for raising awareness of emerging issues such as workplace violence in health care. In 2012, Dr. Michaels served as a member of the expert roundtable that informed the LLI report on joy, meaning, and workforce safety in health care. “Since its founding, the Lucian Leape Institute has been a leading voice for identifying top-level issues that need to be addressed if we are to transform the safety of health care,” said Gary Kaplan, MD, FACMPE, chair of the Institute. “I know I speak for the other members of the Institute in saying how pleased we are to be working again with Drs. Berwick and Michaels as we seek to build upon successes made to date and further advance patient safety understanding and practice.” About the Lucian Leape Institute The Lucian Leape Institute, established in 2007 by the National Patient Safety Foundation, is charged with defining strategic paths and calls to action for the field of patient safety, offering vision and context for the many efforts under way within health care, and providing the leverage necessary for system-level change. Its members are national thought leaders with a common interest in patient safety whose expertise and influence are brought to bear as the Institute calls for the innovation necessary to expedite the work and create significant, sustainable improvements in culture, process, and outcomes critical to safer health care. Learn more at http://www.npsf.org/lli. About Us The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) began working together as one organization in May 2017. The newly formed entity is committed to using its combined knowledge and resources to focus and energize the patient safety agenda in order to build systems of safety across the continuum of care. To learn more about our trainings, resources, and practical applications, visit ihi.org/PatientSafety.
News Article | May 18, 2017
OAKLAND, Calif., May 18, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Department of Industrial Relations' (DIR) Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board today approved a landmark regulation to strengthen workplace safety and health at oil refineries across the state. The new regulation...
News Article | May 16, 2017
Federal OSHA is assessing whether Arizona’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) is meeting its obligation as an approved State OSHA program. The federal government’s scrutiny was prompted by a formal complaint, as well as investigative reporting by Emily Bregel and Tony Rich of the Arizona Daily Star. Both noted that the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA) routinely discounts the findings of ADOSH’s safety inspectors. The ICA’s decisions result in the severity classification of violations being downgraded (e.g., from serious to non-serious) and reduction in proposed monetary penalties. The ICA reviews all ADOSH proposed penalties that exceed $2,500. The Arizona Daily Star’s investigation found the ICA voted to reduce ADOSH’s recommended penalties more than half of the time. Peter Dooley with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health explained to the Star’s Emily Bregel one of several concerns about the ICA’s involvement in reviewing ADOSH’s findings: Dooley, who lives in Tuscon, AZ, formally expressed his concern about the ICA to federal OSHA which has oversight authority of ADOSH. Dooley filed a complaint with OSHA which asserted that the ICA reclassifies violations and reduces penalties without following any approved criteria. OSHA looked into Dooley’s complaint and agreed. In a written response to Dooley, OSHA’s area director in Phoenix, Zachary Barnett indicated: “The role of the ICA and the criteria to be used for making penalty adjustments is not defined in the ADOSH field operations manual or in any OSHA approved guidance document. …ADOSH’s field operations manual contains clear guidance on the calculation of penalties …[but does not] make any mention of the ICA, its role, or additional criteria it can use to reduce penalties.” “…OSHA finds that the ICA is currently reducing penalties in a seemingly arbitrary manner….This practice reduces the deterrent effect of higher penalties and fails to ensure that employers within the state are treated equally.” The State of Arizona has 30 days to respond to OSHA’s findings. Several years ago, federal OSHA rejected Arizona’s standard concerning fall protection for workers at residential construction projects. It determined the State’s program was not meeting the requirement to be “at least as effective” as federal OSHA’s program. Arizona was enforcing fall protection standards for workers at heights greater than 15 feet, while federal OSHA standard applied to heights greater than 6 feet. In 2015, the State acquiesced and began enforcing the 6 foot standard.
News Article | May 23, 2017
Former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin remembers the phone calls from that evening. It was August 6, 2012. Constituents were calling McLaughlin at home to describe a huge cloud of black smoke infiltrated their neighborhoods. It was coming from the Chevron refinery. Minutes later came the shelter-in-place warning for her Richmond, CA town and neighboring San Pablo. It lasted five hours. A corroded pipe at the Chevron refinery failed, causing a massive cloud of hydrocarbon and steam that ignited. Residents of Richmond, CA had been complaining for years about the toxic emissions from the 2,900 acre refinery in their backyard. This time, 15,000 sought help for respiratory problems at hospital emergency departments. Nineteen workers narrowly escaped death, but it was far from the first “close call” for employees at the refinery. It was however, the final straw for workers and the community. Nicole Marquez, a staff attorney for the Oakland, CA-based Worksafe said the Richmond fire served as a “rallying point” for workers and community groups to raise the profile of their health and safety concerns. Their near five-year effort resulted last week in an announcement of new safety rules for California refineries. The standards board of the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) announced revisions to its regulations for process safety management (PSM) of highly hazardous chemicals. WorkSafe was part of coalition of environmental and labor organizations which included the United Steelworkers, Communities for a Better Environment, the BlueGreen Alliance, and NRDC. They capitalized on the findings from investigation conducted by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, Cal/OSHA, and others to demand meaningful reforms to existing PSM standards. Investigators found, for example, that the 1970’s-era piping used in the refinery was particularly susceptible to corrosion from today’s sulfur-rich oil. Chevron’s technicians alerted company management to the problem but were ignored. The company’s mechanical integrity program was an utter failure. Investigators found more than 100 instances in which “temporary” clamps were holding together pipes and equipment. The coalition was relentless in pushing an interagency taskforce to issue new safety requirements for refineries in the state. A key demand from the coalition was a meaningful role for workers in process safety decision making. They succeeded in securing that provision of the rule as well as requirements, such as: The new regulation is being applauded by safety, community, and labor groups. The chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board Vanessa Sutherland congratulated Cal/OSHA for issuing the new refinery safety rules. The CSB investigated the Chevron Richmond catastrophe and issued its report and recommendations in 2015. Mike Wilson, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at the BlueGreen Alliance, has been at the center of the effort for the new refinery safety rules. When implemented, California’ new PSM regulations for refineries will be the most protective in the country. Federal OSHA’s PSM standard was adopted in 1992 and has not been updated.
News Article | February 11, 2017
It’s been nearly two years since Nadia Levine fielded the frantic calls — the first one from her husband, the next from a coworker. Panicked, Levine dialed both her children’s schools as she scrolled down the front page of CNN.com on Feb. 18, 2015. A fire raged blocks away from the Torrance, California, home her family had moved into only a month before. On a business trip nearly 3,000 miles away in Connecticut, Levine scrambled to find numbers for neighbors who could check to see whether the house was still standing. “All I knew at that point was that my kids and husband were alive,” she said. As the smoke cleared, it became clear her worries were far from over. Just before 9 that morning, pent-up gases at ExxonMobil’s Torrance refinery south of Los Angeles had triggered an explosion so massive it registered as a magnitude-1.7 tremor. A five-story processing unit had burst open, spewing industrial ash over a mile away that some mistook for snow and propelling a 40-ton hunk of equipment into the air. The debris had narrowly avoided piercing a tank containing tens of thousands of pounds of hydrofluoric acid, or HF — a gas so toxic it corrodes bone. It was the first Levine had heard of HF. The chemical is used to make high-octane gasoline at about a third of the 141 oil refineries in the United States. If released, HF forms a fast-moving, ground-hugging cloud that can cause lasting lung damage, severe burns, or death. There are alternatives to HF, but only one U.S. refinery that uses it has voluntarily committed to switch, a process expected to begin this year. Federal rules, which don’t require such changes, “haven’t kept up with the continuing challenge of preventing chemical incidents,” said Rick Engler, a member of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which issues recommendations but has no regulatory authority. He called HF “one of the most hazardous and potentially deadly chemicals used in the oil-refining process.” Along with environmentalists and union leaders, the board has pushed unsuccessfully for a federal mandate that would require high-hazard industries to consider using safer processes and chemicals. A 41-page study by a consultant last year estimated it would cost roughly $100 million for the Torrance refinery to switch to sulfuric acid, an HF alternative that carries risks of its own but doesn’t pose a sizable threat to the public. While federal regulation has stagnated, local activism in the wake of the 2015 accident spurred Southern California regulators to revive a 27-year-old effort to ban HF. “Let’s see if we can phase this out to provide an extra level of protection for the public,” Philip Fine, a deputy executive director of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said in an interview. Separately, California officials have been working on a statewide rule, expected to become final this summer, that would require refinery owners to adopt “inherently safer designs and processes” and give workers a bigger voice in accident prevention. That effort began after another disaster that didn’t involve HF: a massive 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, north of San Francisco. More than 15,000 people sought medical treatment for respiratory and other symptoms related to toxic-smoke inhalation. More than 100 refineries are among 1,900 facilities considered “high risk” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, meaning they are prone to terrorist attacks or accidents that imperil surrounding communities. An EPA analysis found that oil- and coal-products manufacturing, which includes refining, had the highest rates of chemical accidents. Many refinery owners, however, have postponed maintenance and equipment upgrades while ramping up production — increasing the odds of deadly mishaps. The Chemical Safety Board, which is investigating the 2015 Torrance accident, called the blast at the 750-acre refinery a “near miss” that fell just short of a “catastrophe,” faulting poor maintenance by ExxonMobil, which had delayed repairs to cut costs. ExxonMobil has challenged those claims. In an email, a spokesperson wrote that “there was no evidence” the incident “posed any risk of harm to the community” from HF. He also wrote that there are “no safer or commercially viable alternatives” to the chemical and denied that ExxonMobil cut corners on maintenance. The company is contesting more than a half-million dollars in state fines and has refused to fully cooperate with safety board investigators, even though it sold the refinery in September 2015 for $538 million to PBF Energy, a New Jersey company known for buying distressed properties at steep discounts. Like ExxonMobil, PBF has reassured Torrance residents that the operation is safe and that the company is “focused on continuous improvement,” despite a spate of recent problems. The scare in Torrance could have been avoided if federal rules had been stronger, said Rick Hind, legislative director at Greenpeace USA. After years of industry pushback, the EPA updated its Risk Management Program in December, requiring facilities like the Torrance refinery to report near-misses and urging communities to improve emergency response. But the rule — which is subject to undoing by the Trump administration — didn’t address prevention, Hind said. “When you use the word ‘risk,’ just substitute the word ‘gamble’ and it takes on a different urgency,” he said. “We’re just again gambling with the future of millions of workers and community residents.” Growing up in Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco, Levine, now 34, lived not far from two refineries. These days she works across the street from the Chevron El Segundo refinery, just south of Los Angeles International Airport. The only one that gives her pause, she says, is Torrance. Saddled with a hefty mortgage, the Levines have remained in their house despite lingering concerns. Months after the near-miss, sirens sounded again when a small amount of HF leaked from a truck. Days before Thanksgiving last year, Levine watched another fire unfold near the same unit that exploded in 2015, which produces a crucial component of high-octane gasoline. “Nobody told us we lived in a kill zone when we bought our house,” said Levine, whose home is within two miles of the refinery. ExxonMobil’s “worst-case” chemical-release scenario filed with the EPA estimated that no more than 2 percent of its HF supply could escape, endangering more than 255,000 residents up to 3.2 miles away. The EPA is investigating whether that figure is accurate. Neither PBF nor ExxonMobil has explained why that scenario assumes a minor leak instead of a tank-emptying discharge. Each has declined to disclose the exact potency of “modified” HF used at Torrance, which is diluted with a secret additive they claim greatly curbs how much of the acid vaporizes. The companies’ reticence stands in contrast to Valero, which operates a refinery eight miles away in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles and makes its modified HF recipe public. Valero’s worst-case scenario predicts its total HF supply, if released, would endanger more than 370,000 people as far as 4.3 miles away. The composition of the modified HF in Torrance remains a mystery to federal investigators, too. ExxonMobil has not yet complied with several Chemical Safety Board subpoenas, including those seeking information on the refinery’s HF tank. Absent federal rules, attempts to make processes less dangerous have fallen largely to companies like ExxonMobil — with mixed results. The additive used in Torrance dates to a 1989 lawsuit filed by the city against ExxonMobil — then Mobil. At the time, Torrance was using pure HF, which officials warned could lead to a “disaster of Bhopal-like proportions,” referring to the 1984 gas leak in India that killed thousands. The city’s complaint called the refinery a “public nuisance” and documented more than 127 incidents that had occurred in the previous decade, including a gas-fueled fireball that killed a stranded motorist and two workers, and a series of other fires and leaks. In 1990, Mobil agreed that it would discontinue use of undiluted HF, and several years later a court-appointed safety advisor approved Mobil’s use of the acid tempered with at least 30-percent additive. Mobil claimed the additive, combined with other protective measures like emergency water cannons, would virtually eliminate toxic vapors in the event of a release, causing HF to fall to the ground like rain. The nature of the additive remains secret to this day. In a statement, PBF spokesperson Michael Karlovich wrote that the company is barred from speaking in detail about it because the supplier considers the information to be proprietary. The HF used at Torrance, he wrote, is diluted by approximately 10 to 15 percent. That amount falls short of the 30-percent threshold to which Mobil committed all those years ago. The discrepancy — coupled with lingering concern over the 2015 near-miss — was the main reason the South Coast air district revived the idea of an HF ban, Fine said. The district was made aware of the change, he said, by the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, which found that the city council agreed to Mobil’s plan in a closed-door meeting. The district’s original attempt to ban HF in 1990 was overturned in court because officials hadn’t allowed a sufficient period for public comment. “We’re much worse off because of modified HF,” said retired scientist and alliance member Sally Hayati. She and others in her group support switching to sulfuric acid, which can still burn workers but doesn’t vaporize into fast-moving clouds. “If it wasn’t for modified HF, HF would have been gone.” HF is used in a refining process called alkylation, in which light hydrocarbons are fed into a reactor and transformed into a mixture of heavier ones by a catalyst — either HF or the primary alternative, sulfuric acid. The liquid part of this mixture, alkylate, gives high-octane gasoline its anti-knock properties. Kim Nibarger of the United Steelworkers, a union that represents workers in Torrance, said that both modified and regular HF pose lethal risks. “For our workers, it’s not really going to matter if it’s modified or not, they’re going to be in the middle of it,” he said. The union’s 2013 report on the dangers of HF, “A Risk Too Great,” urged refiners to commit to safer options. While sulfuric acid — used at about 50 U.S. refineries — is less menacing to the public than HF, Nibarger said it’s not much of a step up for workers. He’s hopeful that two emerging technologies — solid acid alkylation, being tried at a refinery in China, and ionic liquid alkylation, to be phased in at a Chevron refinery in Salt Lake City, beginning this year — will catch on. In a statement, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers stood behind HF, used by many of its members, from refiners to pharmaceutical companies. “Refiners have safely and responsibly operated hydrofluoric acid units for more than 70 years,” the trade group wrote in an email, adding that “a ban of HF could threaten California’s fuel supply and lead to higher consumer fuel costs.” PBF officials expressed the same sentiment and said a transition to sulfuric acid would be a massive undertaking that would take several years to plan. For years, refiners claimed pure HF would liquefy if spilled — a theory physicist Ron Koopman disproved in the 1980s with industry-sponsored tests in the Nevada desert. “But there was no liquid to collect,” said Koopman, formerly of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and now an independent consultant. “All of it went downwind as a vapor cloud.” Based on his experience with pure HF, Koopman is skeptical of industry claims about the modified form. Outside of research by companies, he said, there have been no peer-reviewed studies confirming the efficacy of modified HF. “No one has any idea if it works,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a longtime Torrance resident whose children sheltered in place at school the day of the 2015 blast. “We’re flying blind here.” Since PBF took over the Torrance refinery in July, it has pushed production rates at the nearly century-old complex beyond ExxonMobil’s historic outputs. The refinery is PBF’s most expensive and most recent purchase, producing a tenth of California’s gasoline. When the “gasoline machine,” as the company describes it, virtually shut down for over a year following the 2015 explosion, it caused a spike in regional gas prices that cost motorists $2.4 billion. As companies like ExxonMobil exit refining in search of heftier profits from oil and gas exploration, smaller and newer companies like PBF have taken the helm — buying up aging plants for “10 cents on the dollar.” Within eight years, the New Jersey company went from owning no refineries to being the country’s third-largest independent refiner, with five facilities. PBF’s brief track record at Torrance has been marred by problems. The refinery has been beset by power outages that set off tall columns of black smoke from safety flares. “You’re sitting or playing outside and all of a sudden there it goes,” said Levine, who has spent nearly $1,000 on home air purifiers. “It’s starting to become normalized, and I don’t like that. That scares me more than anything.” On Jan. 4, she got a city of Torrance alert about an “unidentified odor” from the refinery. While PBF officials were quick to assure residents that the rotten-egg smell was innocuous, a hazardous-spill report suggests otherwise. Local fire officials reported traces of sulfur had leaked along with an unknown amount of naphtha — a highly flammable gas and a nose, throat and eye irritant. In an interview, Jeff Dill, president of PBF’s western region, said the incident was minor and “there were no materials released from any equipment.” It took only 90 gallons of naphtha to spark a 1999 fire at the Tosco Avon refinery in Martinez, California, that burned four workers to death and critically injured another. PBF founder Thomas O’Malley was CEO of Tosco at the time. That disaster was considered preventable by the Chemical Safety Board, whose report revealed “a pattern of serious deviations from safe work practices” that went uncorrected by management. Tosco paid $21 million to settle three wrongful-death claims, $2 million in criminal fines, and a state fine of more than $800,000. O’Malley apologized, but faulted workers for disregarding safety protocols. Before the fire, Tosco had finished a round of layoffs and was preparing to downsize its staff of health and safety inspectors. The 1999 fire wasn’t O’Malley’s first run-in with regulators at Tosco, which he transformed from a one-refinery company to the country’s largest independent refiner between 1990 and 2001. Two years earlier, a 1997 fire at the same refinery killed one worker and injured 46 others. The EPA fined Tosco $600,000 after an investigation found “management tolerance of safety hazards and risky operator practices” like “operating with unreliable or malfunctioning equipment.” “The U.S. refining industry is not a learning culture,” said Mike Wilson of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of union officials and environmentalists. Wilson, a former chief scientist with the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health, was part of a team working on the state’s pending refinery rule. “It’s the same kind of incidents that happen. They happen again and again and again.” The PBF refinery in Paulsboro, New Jersey, which uses HF, is a case in point. Sixteen students and two teachers at the high school next door were hospitalized in 2015 for exposure to naphtha, which can contain carcinogenic benzene. A lawsuit filed last year claims PBF failed to detect the leak for two days. The company declined to comment on the case. It was the second time schoolchildren were sickened by emissions from the Paulsboro refinery since PBF purchased it in 2010. In 2012, several nearby schools reported sick students after 6.3 million gallons of oil spilled from a large tank. Under New Jersey law, PBF must evaluate safer alternatives every five years. The company’s 2012 report to the Department of Environmental Protection concluded that switching to sulfuric acid was “not feasible,” in part because conversion would cost $200 million to $250 million. PBF was unenthusiastic about moving to modified HF as well, saying it would cause “increased corrosion” of equipment and cut the refinery’s efficiency by 10 percent. According to a PBF filing with the EPA, the Paulsboro refinery stores 250,000 pounds of undiluted HF on site, endangering more than 3.2 million people up to 19 miles away. Just across the Delaware River from Paulsboro is PBF’s first property, the Delaware City Refinery, plagued by even more problems. Last year, state regulators cited the refinery for dozens of violations stemming from multiple leaks and excessive flaring that released thousands of pounds of pollutants into the air. The refinery is also under a safety board investigation for a string of worker injuries. In November 2015, a worker was severely burned on the face and neck. Months earlier, two incidents a week apart led to a fire and chemical leak that sent three workers to the hospital. O’Malley has bought the Delaware City Refinery twice — first as head of Premcor in 2004, and then as dealmaker for PBF in 2010. In the latter transaction, the refinery had been shuttered for two years under Valero, which reported it was losing $1 million a day in 2009. While the PBF purchase was celebrated by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, it came at a steep cost to the public. Once the deal was announced, state regulators quickly settled with Valero for $1.95 million, a fraction of the penalties that could have been collected for nearly 200 environmental violations in the past decade. Delawareans have also handed out nearly $55 million in grants and tax breaks to PBF to resurrect the refinery. When PBF bought another Valero refinery later in 2010, New Jersey regulators also quickly settled. The state recovered less than $800,000 from Valero — a third of the proposed $2.3 million in environmental fines the company racked up over six years. PBF is also in negotiations with Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality over violations dating to 2009 at the Chalmette refinery — a former ExxonMobil property the company bought in 2015. Like Torrance and Paulsboro, Chalmette also uses HF. According to an ExxonMobil filing with the EPA, the refinery has 620,000 pounds of the acid, which could endanger more than 880,000 people as far as 25 miles away. Companies like PBF are “flippers” — acquiring refineries at rock-bottom prices only to sell them a few years later for profits. The business model has paid off for O’Malley, an early pioneer of the tactic who sold Tosco in 2001 for $7 billion. He replicated the success with Premcor, which was sold to Valero in 2005 for $8 billion. PBF declined multiple requests by the Center for Public Integrity to make O’Malley available for comment. While O’Malley’s knack for turning around unprofitable assets has won him both praise and billions on Wall Street, it has earned him disdain from some in the labor community, who tell of severe cost-cutting at the expense of workers. Bob Wages, a longtime union leader, once told The Wall Street Journal that O’Malley’s success, in part, meant “taking a knife to all parts of the business.” O’Malley’s strategy, moreover, hasn’t always worked. His model sent Switzerland-based PetroPlus deeper into a financial hole after it bought three European refineries. He led the company until shortly before it filed for insolvency in 2012. O’Malley officially retired from PBF in June following the Torrance deal, but remains a paid consultant to the company. But the company still follows his vision. CEO Thomas Nimbley worked as O’Malley’s No. 2 at Tosco, and two of O’Malley’s nephews have served as vice presidents. PBF officials said they are committed to running their refineries “safely and reliably in an environmentally responsible manner,” but noted that the company also bears a responsibility to its shareholders. “We pay one of the higher dividends in our industry,” Dill said. Nadia Levine, meanwhile, says conditions at the refinery — and communication about incidents — don’t seem to have improved since PBF took over. “It all seems to be cloaked in secrecy,” she said. Jie Jenny Zou is a reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. This story was produced in collaboration with Southern California Public Radio.
News Article | February 7, 2017
Not violating federal labor law seems like a commonsense precursor for being awarded lucrative federal contracts. House Republicans, however, disagree. Last week, majority members in the House of Representatives successfully passed a resolution to get rid of federal disclosure requirements included in President Barack Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, which he originally signed in 2014. Those disclosure requirements directed businesses bidding for federal contracts of $500,000 or more to report any violations of 14 labor laws within the prior three years. Among those 14 laws are the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the National Labor Relations Act, a provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Now that the repeal effort has passed the House, it moves on to the Senate. Republicans were able to do this using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which passed in the mid-1990s and allows Congress to get rid of regulations that have taken effect within the last 60 legislative days. The CRA is very rarely used; in fact, the last time Congress wielded it effectively was in 2001 to overturn OSHA’s ergonomics rules. The Department of Labor previously described the need for the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces’ disclosure rules like this: Debbie Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project (NELP), said the point of the executive order was to encourage companies to come into compliance before bidding for federal contracts. In fact, she told me that the order doesn’t even deprive companies that have violated the law from bidding or receiving a big federal contract. It simply requires disclosure of previous violations and even offers a process by which bidders can come into full compliance with these fairly basic labor laws. But because policymakers used the CRA to go after the order — and assuming the Senate and president follow House Republicans’ lead — it’ll mean the Labor Department can’t issue similar regulations unless Congress gives its permission. Unfortunately, advocates such as Berkowitz worry that axing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order is just a taste of the much larger assault on worker health and safety that’s to come. “Congress is completely giving in to the power of big corporations here,” Berkowitz said. “This is the opening salvo of the war on workers and the first big test of President Trump on whether he’ll stand up for workers.” What’s at stake for worker health and safety? But to help us gauge just how much we have to lose on that front, NELP recently issued a short policy brief on gains during the Obama years. Let’s start with the basic numbers: Under Obama, workplace fatalities went down. In particular, the brief noted that the rate of workers being killed on the job dropped from 3.7 per 100,000 workers in 2008 to 3.4 per 100,000 in 2015. That translates to an average of 4,747 workers who lost their lives on the job each year from 2013 to 2015, compared to an average of 5,570 workers who lost their lives every year from 2006 to 2008. At the Mine Safety and Health Administration, according to the brief, workplace fatalities in the nation’s mines reached a record low during the Obama years. On OSHA enforcement, the brief noted that after thinning resources during the George W. Bush years, the Obama administration and its partners in Congress allocated enough funding to add more than 200 people to OSHA’s staff. Even with the increase, it would still take OSHA more than a century to visit every workplace under its jurisdiction. That’s why during the Obama years, the Labor Department zeroed in on particularly egregious lawbreakers, directing their limited resources at employers with a history of serious and willful violations. One example of that effort is OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which it established in 2010. In a 2013 agency white paper on SVEP progress, OSHA wrote: This is important because OSHA’s enforcement efforts can serve as a critical insight into how an administration values and prioritizes worker safety. It gives us an opportunity to gauge whether an administration’s commitment to job creation includes jobs that don’t put workers at risk of preventable injury and illness for the sake of greater profits. In general, Berkowitz said the Obama administration viewed workplace injuries as events that could be prevented through safer workplace conditions, better training and compliance with OSHA regulations. Under Obama, OSHA could follow the data, which led it to focus on the most dangerous industries, the most vulnerable workers and the most recalcitrant employers. For example, Berkowitz reminded me, OSHA launched initiatives specifically for Latino workers as well as temporary workers in light of data showing both worker populations faced disproportionate workplace risks and abuses. That was a marked practice shift from the previous administration, which focused much more on applauding workplaces with good safety records to the detriment of focusing on workplaces with poor safety records. Berkowitz said she expects to see a big drop in OSHA’s enforcement capacity under Trump. She also noted that the administration could easily get rid of a program like SVEP. “Enforcement is where I think we’ll see the biggest swing coming,” she said. “I think we’ll see a shift away from enforcement toward exempting more employers from inspections and providing more resources for giving workplaces (accolades) if they have good safety records. …It’s a shame because enforcement is critical. It makes a difference, it works, it saves workers’ lives and it saves employers money.” ‘Radical departure from the commitment to protecting workers’ Beyond enforcement, OSHA also made progress in protecting whistleblowers and ensuring state-run worker safety programs were at least as effective as federal OSHA, according to NELP. For example, OSHA under Obama amped up its efforts to protect workers who were retaliated against for speaking out about harmful workplace conditions. During the last three years of Obama’s presidency, the number of cases with a positive outcome for workers who experienced such retaliation was double that of a comparable period of time under the Bush administration, the brief reported. In addition, the amount of money awarded to workers who were retaliated against almost tripled. Still, the brief noted that with more than 4,800 workers killed on the job in 2015, “more work is left to be done.” The brief drove that need home with this story: Just this summer, for example, a young woman, two weeks away from her wedding, was working at an auto parts plant in Alabama when the assembly line stopped and she and three of her co-workers entered a robotic station to clear a sensor fault. The robot restarted abruptly, crushing to death the young woman inside the machine. An investigation by OSHA found that the company exposed her to a life-threatening danger and completely failed to protect her — they never developed or implemented the procedures for preventing machines from starting up when workers are inside. This is one of the oldest and most basic of all safety rules. OSHA levied more than $2.5 million in fines on both Ajin USA (the plant owner) and the two staffing agencies that provided workers to the plant. This story — which is one among thousands in 2016 — should send a clear message to the incoming administration that strong enforcement of safety rules is a must to safeguard America’s workers. But Andrew Puzder, (President) Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor, has spent years railing against regulations — especially those that protect America’s workers and the middle class. He speaks often of a cost-benefit analysis that gives short shrift to the value of the lives and health of workers. On Puzder, Berkowitz told me: “They’ve nominated somebody who clearly shows that he’s hostile to the interests of low-wage and middle-wage workers. I think he has no concept of the kinds of dangers workers face in industry and that they can be prevented through better training and safer practices.” (Puzder’s confirmation hearing has been delayed multiple times.) Berkowitz said despite the troubling outlook at the federal level, she expects states and localities will continue moving forward to promote safer working conditions, living wages and equitable workplace policies. Federally, she predicts worker health and safety will end up on the chopping block. “I think we’re going to see huge budget cuts — I have no doubt about that,” Berkowitz said. “We’re going to see a radical departure from the commitment to protecting workers…and it’s never good for workers when OSHA rolls back enforcement. If workers can’t count on OSHA to cite an employer who’s endangering their safety, then there’s no real protection for workers.” To download a copy of the NELP brief, click here. For advocacy resources on the Puzder nomination, visit http://antilaborsecretary.org. Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for 15 years.
News Article | February 23, 2017
Coggno Introduces New Safety and Security Bundled Online Training Courses for Its Audience Coggno, online training extraordinaire, has expanded their training library with 97 new Safety and Security online training courses from SafeWorkday. San Jose, CA, February 23, 2017 --( Coggno CEO, Tod Browndorf has this to say about the announcement, “We are very excited to add SafeWorkday’s extensive library of Safety titles to the Coggno Library. The quality and breath of the collection is a real asset to our audience of trainees assuring safe workplace environments.” Each of the 97 new courses can be accessed individually at $12.95 or as part of a special bundled offer for $69.00 per user. SafeWorkday’s courses include First Aid General Awareness, Fire Prevention and Safety, Eye Safety and Electrical Safety, amongst others, and can easily be found on Coggno’s online Marketplace under Workplace Safety. About Coggno: Coggno, a California-based online training provider, offers a platform for accessing an extensive library of online training courses. Their courses are created by industry experts, delivered through an intuitive learning platform that is accessible any time of day on desktops and mobile devices. Coggno is in the business of making training simpler and more convenient for their audience of trainees. San Jose, CA, February 23, 2017 --( PR.com )-- Coggno has announced that their training library has expanded and now includes 97 new Safety and Security online training courses from SafeWorkday. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a workplace that does not compromise the health and safety of its employees, which is why Health and Safety training is crucial and why Coggno has set out to make it more accessible.Coggno CEO, Tod Browndorf has this to say about the announcement, “We are very excited to add SafeWorkday’s extensive library of Safety titles to the Coggno Library. The quality and breath of the collection is a real asset to our audience of trainees assuring safe workplace environments.”Each of the 97 new courses can be accessed individually at $12.95 or as part of a special bundled offer for $69.00 per user. SafeWorkday’s courses include First Aid General Awareness, Fire Prevention and Safety, Eye Safety and Electrical Safety, amongst others, and can easily be found on Coggno’s online Marketplace under Workplace Safety.About Coggno: Coggno, a California-based online training provider, offers a platform for accessing an extensive library of online training courses. Their courses are created by industry experts, delivered through an intuitive learning platform that is accessible any time of day on desktops and mobile devices. Coggno is in the business of making training simpler and more convenient for their audience of trainees. Click here to view the list of recent Press Releases from Coggno